GRPD initiates new immigrant-contact policy


Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne hopes data collected from the digital polling tool will lead to stronger community-police relationships. Courtesy GRPD

The Grand Rapids Police Department is looking to build trust with the immigrant community.

The department has established a foreign national policy that prohibits any member of the Grand Rapids Police Department from inquiring about a resident’s citizenship or immigration status, except during a criminal investigation. 

According to Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne, GRPD crafted a draft policy based on research of what other cities were doing. He said the American Civil Liberties Union, Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, Community Relations Commission and Grand Rapids Association of Pastors had representatives involved in the review of the draft and provided input into the final policy.

The new policy states no member of the GRPD shall:

  • Coerce, threaten with deportation or engage in verbal abuse with any person based upon the person’s or the person’s family members’ actual or perceived immigration status or citizenship.

  • Inquire into a person’s immigration status when the person is seeking police services, such as filing a police report or calling 911.

  • Stop, question, investigate, arrest, search or detain an individual based solely on: actual or suspected immigration status; or actual or suspected violations of federal civil immigration law, including an immigration detainer, administrative immigration warrant, prior deportation, order or other civil immigration documents.

  • Inquire of any individual about the immigration status of any person or require any individual to produce any document to prove their immigration status. Exceptions may be made for legitimate law enforcement needs. These may include: complying with consular notification requirements; complying with diplomatic or consular immunity requirements; the information is required to be obtained by federal, state or city law with examples being background checks and employment requirements; and when circumstances of an ongoing criminal investigation make the information relevant to the investigation, and not civil immigration enforcement.

  • Request translation services from federal immigration authorities, barring exigent circumstances.

The chief said the department did not have a policy that dealt directly with foreign nationals, although portions of the content of the new policy were covered in other GRPD directives.

“We thought it was important to ensure the community understood our policies and processes in regard to foreign nationals,” he said. “All of our policies are online for full transparency. Ultimately, we hope this policy helps us build trust with the immigrant community.”

Meghan Moore, an immigration attorney with Avanti Law Group, said the new policy is important and helpful.

“There is a lot of fear in the documented and undocumented immigrant community to talk with police because they worry about what can happen to them,” she said. “I think that is huge, and it will hopefully foster that cooperation with investigating crimes and preventing crimes between the immigrant community and the police.”

She said one of the most important parts of the policy is the GRPD cannot stop, question, investigate, arrest, search or detain an individual based solely on actual or suspected immigration status or actual or suspected violations of federal civil immigration law, including an immigration detainer, administrative immigration warrant or prior deportation.

“There is a lot of pretext for police stops,” Moore said. “Police officers can absolutely be stopping someone based on their perceived immigration status, but all they have to say is ‘I thought their light was out’ or something like that. There just can be other reasons why they can stop, question and investigate someone that isn’t 100% about immigration, but all they have to do is have one other reason. This policy prevents that from happening.”

The new policy follows an incident that took place last November when Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, a U.S. citizen and Marine veteran, was detained in an immigration facility, awaiting possible deportation, after a GRPD officer arrested him for setting fire and gaining access to the helipad area at Spectrum Health-Butterworth Hospital and, thereafter, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials were contacted.

“Given the current environment with immigration nationally, not just locally, and what happened here in Grand Rapids, I think that has really broken down trust and it is just going to take a lot more than just one policy memo to bring it back,” Moore said. “I am hopeful that it will, but I think it will take time.”

Diocese of Grand Rapids Office of Immigration Legal Services provides legal services related to most family-based and humanitarian immigration processes, outside of court representation.

It works with clients from more than 70 countries around the world.

Rebecca Lair-Ybanez, director of immigration legal services for the Diocese of Grand Rapids, said since undocumented individuals do not have immigration status, the only issue they can address is whether there is an avenue under the law to get that person into a regularized status.

Lair-Ybanez said it could be through the family-based system, through their cooperation with law enforcement after being the victim of a serious crime, through asylum, through temporary status, or certain programs for minors, among others, including an orientation of the law as it applies to them personally.

Although the legal services the Diocese provides directly requires their clients’ interaction with law enforcement, Lair-Ybanez said there still is a very real impact on the immigrant community, undocumented or not, when it comes to reporting a crime or cooperating with law enforcement.

“Many people are hesitant to come forward if they believe that doing so would cause their unjustified detention, the separation of their family, or their return to extreme poverty or persecution in their home country,” she said. “This new policy will hopefully provide reassurance to our immigrant brothers and sisters who live and work in the city that they will be treated with the respect they deserve.”

Payne said the consequences of officers violating the policy depend on a variety of factors, but there is a disciplinary process in place in which consequences range from coaching to termination.

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